This blog is a blast from the past. It was written more than a decade ago, so re-reading it is a bit of a cringe. It’s being posted for those of you who mentioned a recent contemplation of your journey, or the topic of connection. This was a letter to myself, written at a time when the choice between climbing on or stepping off could have gone either way. As such it is, at best, a semi-coherent ramble of monolithic proportions. A faded snapshot documenting a moment on the ascent from Engineer to Northern Beaches Chiropractor.
But it’s here now, for transparency, or maybe as something to hang on to. Inspired by a favourite quote from Thoreau, that I was reminded of long ago by a patient now passed. Don’t say you weren’t warned…
It was early in the 2000’s, my tax accountant peered over his glasses from across the table and, with as much levity as becomes a tax accountant, smirked, “Your little engineering business is quite successful Andrew”.
This didn’t really feel successful. Sure the money was rolling in, but how many new shirts can a man wear? Life is short, just an instant in eternity, and the jewels that adorn you adorn another in the passing of that instant. So how does one define success? ‘His little engineering business was quite successful’, isn’t an epitaph I aspired to.
I was still coming to terms with ‘success’, when he hit me with the accountant’s version of a left hook, “Now is a good time to set up some investments for your retirement.”
Whoa! My life flashed before me. So this is success? Day after day same-ness while planning for the end by leasing increasingly more expensive European cars, in an effort to feel like I had bettered the taxman?
Wait a minute. I had been here before…
Rock-climbing has been a passion for many years. A vertical escape where an afternoon cheating gravity polarises the horizontal world; bringing pause and perspective to the machinations of modern life. Bombarding the senses and unleashing endorphins; the gritty hard feel of the rock against your hands. Perception focused into a fingertip contact as the smell of the eucalypts and the call of the bellbirds rise from the valley, far, far below. The nature, the characters you meet and the experiences you share all make this a special pursuit.
Your very existence often distilled down to a single successful move on a two hundred metre rock face. The momentary acknowledgement that one mistake made here might mean game over. Oh well, we all die. But how many of us truly live? Those moments allow both the demons of the past and the worries of the future to fall away. Leaving nothing but the present.
Serenity and terror, all at once, in copious servings.
Repeat and stir, then finally we reach the summit… It is done. And so begins the post-climb recounting. Thee adrenaline fueled, semi-articulate jabbering in the company of fellow escapees extends into the evening. Grazed knuckles gripping a cheap bottle of red. Melting cheese-on-toast over an open fire whilst the setting sun casts alpenglow across vast sandstone cliff faces.
Ahhh yes. ‘The summit buzz’.
But here’s the thing about summits. After a while they all kinda look the same. Be it a leafy ledge atop a towering cliff at the back of Blackheath or a coffee table sized pad of snow on a peak in the New Zealand Alps.
After the summit what is there? You can’t stay up on the summit, so why bother? Your first few are grand, but there’s a sameness about summits that eventually dulls the experience to the point where you could just walk away from the whole circus. So if not for the summit, why do we climb?
Ask and the universe answers.
We were nearing the top of a day-long climb in the Blue Mountains. The skies had previously dumped on us, as a storm ran across the Jamison valley, strafing us with lightning. Which is of considerable concern when you’re hanging high on a shear cliff face, dripping wet, with a bandolier of metallic climbing gear slung over your shoulder. We were a little off-route and hence, mildly lost. Our only exit was up a long vertical open corner that, if dry, might have been fairly straightforward.
The storm passed as quickly as it arrived. We were taking a little longer. Late afternoon sun now peeking from behind the clouds, warming the side of my neck as I hung off the wall from two small anchors. My climbing partner was far above, out of view, struggling slowly up the soggy corner as I payed out the rope for him.
Leaning back in my harness I swiveled around to take in the view when, from below, a large bird of prey floated up majestically on a thermal. It paused weightlessly at eye level, only a few wingspans out from the cliff. Time stopped and we just stared at each other, transfixed.
Satisfied I was no threat, nor much of a meal, it tilted its head and arced gracefully down into the yawning void, breaking the spell. You couldn’t buy that moment with all the gold in the world, I couldn’t repeat it if I tried.
My focus was all wrong, the reason I climb isn’t the summit.
It’s somewhere between the base and the summit. It’s the experiences we have along the way. Not just the things we see around us but, more importantly, the glimpses of what lies within.
It’s in the doing; all the triumphs and trials that make it so worthwhile. The journey is the juice of life, not the destination…
The perfect mountain has no summit. Climbing taught me this.
The accountant mentioned something about capital gains tax, but I wasn’t paying attention anymore. Everything was about to change.
Clarity is a gift. It releases the potential we possess within. Unleashing a resultant kinetic energy of amplitude too strong to ignore. An unstoppable force had just been set in motion, no longer dormant. Now seeking direction.
What can an unstoppable force achieve?
Chomalungma (Mt Everest) is the highest peak in that famous mountain range called the Himalaya. But it wasn’t always so. Once, long ago, no mountain existed, just an unstoppable force. This force brought together portions of our world, compressing and allowing them to interact until they had nowhere to go but up.
This same force continued through the ages, pure in its intent. Pure force acting upon matter has resulted in a wonder of unequaled grandeur.
Some worship this mountain as a goddess, others go seeking challenge, or to find more of themselves. Whatever the reasons, all who spend time there cannot help but come away changed. A single force, pure in its intent can change the very face of the earth and inspire great acts. To this day that unstoppable force continues and the mountain is still growing.
How best to direct my force?
No one knows what happens after our journey here comes to an end. It doesn’t really matter to me. Though I’m fairly sure you don’t take anything with you. If our purpose here isn’t to take anything, it would seem apparent that our purpose here must be to give.
Time to discover the manner how I must express my purpose. It certainly wasn’t an occupation where going through the motions, collecting possessions and planning to retire are the only things on offer.
The goal was an endeavour for which I could hold great passion and immerse myself into. So the search began to find a task where the doing is the reward. No retirement plans, no sunset clauses.
Being an engineer, mechanisms always held an interest and there is no more elegant machine in the universe than that of the human body mind. In fact, you start out looking at it like a machine but you soon understand…
We’re not like a wristwatch. We’re more like the weather.
The search led me first to medicine, speaking with Doctors, observing at hospitals but walking away disappointed. This wasn’t how I imagined a Doctor. The engineering industry had shown what it means to be a small component in a big broken machine and the medical industry looked like more of the same. It became apparent this was more of a search for me.
Dream another dream.
Time spent under the care of a Chiropractor for a previous motorsport induced spinal injury had brought about ‘miracle’ results. ‘Miracle’ because previous medical opinion declared that pain and lack of mobility were normal for such an injury, and to expect worse in the future.
Of course, Chiropractors don’t create miracles, but they do hold a space where miracles are allowed to occur. After only three months of Chiropractic care my spine had more ease than in the last twenty years.
Not only that. Something else had changed. A new perception and an expanded emotional spectrum. No longer did every experience receive the same shrug of the shoulders – joy and sadness were once again part of my somatic vocabulary.
As was the ability to act, not simply react.
We can only act on our current perception of the reality we think we are experiencing. So, when you think about it, what is the world but the collective perceptions of all our current realities?
How do we perceive our reality, how do we act and create our reality? Science tells us we perceive our surroundings via our senses and thereby through our nervous systems.
If a doctor focused on liberating forces within the nervous system, they would provide people with an opportunity to enjoy a clearer reality. and with it, an opportunity to improve their world.
Clarity is the catalyst of positive change.
After seeking counsel with numerous Chiropractors, reading books on the topic and meeting Chiropractic students. I realised this was what I thought of when picturing a Doctor. Chiropractic assists the individual to bring transcendence into their world. A worthy pursuit and the start of a new journey.
I had found the perfect mountain.
It continues up far beyond our present visions. It stands solid for all humanity and, whatever your perspective, you will find beauty. Most importantly, this mountain has no summit.
We all climb upon it. Remember the day you took your first step. Many climb for a while only to found themselves lost and exposed on a frightening expanse of mountain side. If so, simply do as climbers have always done when lost high on the hill. Head for one of the ridges.
Our mountain is a pyramid with a triangular base and 3 ridges, all leading up. These apexes are known as Science, Art and Philosophy. Follow one for a while, apply yourself and you’ll find yourself ascending with ease.
But climb with courage. The ridge may offer security, but always allow yourself to leave this comfort. Embrace the exposure and head out onto the face. It’s only here in the open expanse that you may set your course and master your own journey.
Explore and discover all that this wonderful peak has to offer.
When on the mountain, climbers may use a rope to catch their fall. We take it for granted, but there is sanctity to this simple piece of equipment. At the beginning of a climb, as you and your partner tie-in to each end of the rope, you enter into an unspoken agreement.
This act is a sacred contract, a promise to help each other through anything that should lie ahead. It’s a vow to work together, to inspire each other, to provide support or congratulate, ‘the marriage of the rope’.
If at times you feel there is no way up, if you are unable to find passage through difficult new terrain, do not think it is all over. Just look around and see all the connections; the family, the colleagues, the patients, the teachers, the students. We are here, partners sharing the experience of the mountain, ready with support until you regain your footing. On this mountain we work as a team. All heading up.
What exists higher up on this mountain?
What has been seen by those who’ve climbed ahead of us? If you’ve been privileged to meet with one and chanced to ask them, you may find they never mention a summit, nor of ever nearing one. They only speak of higher ground and aspirations for ascent.
It’s the very act of climbing that builds our mountain, and because of this we are not on the mountain – we are that mountain. The higher the individual climbs, the higher we can all set our sights.
May we meet again on higher ground… Climb well!
“Advance confidently in the direction of your dreams. Endevour to live the life you have imagined, and you will meet with a success unexpected in common hours” – Thoreau.